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 Home > News & Policies > May 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 19, 2003

Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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1:20 P.M. EDT

 

MR. FLEISCHER: The President began today the usual way -- had his intelligence briefing, FBI briefing, followed by a meeting of the National Security Council. Then the President greeted the President of the Philippines, President Arroyo, and welcomed her to the White House. They have now concluded all but the formal dinner tonight. They had a meeting in the Oval Office, followed by an expanded bilateral meeting, and of course, the news conference, which you all were there.

 

Later today, the President will meet with the Secretary of State. And then in the evening will be the formal state dinner with the President's guests, the President of the Philippines and her husband.

 

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

 

Q Does the President also meet with members of Congress on the tax cut at 5:30 p.m. today?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: If we have something to update you on the schedule, we will. We'll let you know.

 

Q There have been some reports from the Secretary of Defense that there may be some al Qaeda leaders hold up in Iran.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we have had longstanding concerns about the presence of al Qaeda in Iran. This is a topic that has been discussed and has been communicated to the Iranian government. It is a serious matter and one the President takes seriously.

 

Q Who do we think is there?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to name names. But it's fair to say that it is a serious matter of longstanding concern, and we will continue to make sure that the Iranians receive the message about how seriously the President takes this.

 

Q -- the ones who we think are responsible for the Saudi Arabia bombings -- do we think they're hiding in Iran?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: We are still looking into all the facts and circumstances as the investigation continues in Saudi Arabia. And I don't rule anything out.

 

Q Do we need to change tactics? Because it seems like the most recent target in Morocco was sort of an easier hit. Does this suggest that al Qaeda is going after easier to hit targets?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, they have -- assuming that the attack in Morocco was al Qaeda, which we do have suspicions that it was, but it is notable how we have, as a result of the ongoing efforts in the war against terrorism, shored up many of the official government entities around the globe. There are still risks to those places, as you know, and we have an enemy that is dedicated to taking their own life by taking innocent targets wherever they can find these innocent targets. And they have found them, unfortunately, in several of the places that you saw -- in Morocco over the weekend, and in Saudi Arabia last week.

 

Q Ari, on the road map, the President said today that the road map still stands, that it would not be put on hold in light of the violence over the weekend. What specifically is the administration trying to do -- or planning to do over the course of the next week, weeks, to try to see that there is some movement?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I think it's important to recognize that Israel has been repeatedly hit now by suicide homicide bombings. And the first step is understanding that the reason for the postponement of Prime Minister Sharon's visit. The President respects this decision, understands it. He looks forward to greeting Prime Minister Sharon at the first opportunity.

 

But as the President said today, what's important now is that all the parties still have to focus on the fact that the road map is the vision that can establish peace in the region. And the message, as the President unequivocally carried it today, is that the peace process begins best with the actions by Palestinian authorities to crack down on those who would derail the peace. The President is determined not to let the peace get derailed. He will continue his quest to implement the road map, and sometimes it takes a little bit of time. Sometimes it also takes the resolve of the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror.

Q Well, you've got a standoff right now between Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Prime Minister, who's saying that he, in a sense, doesn't have the authority to crack down until the road map is accepted. You have Sharon saying he's not going to accept it as it is, that he wants major changes.

MR. FLEISCHER: And this is the history of how negotiations begin. If this was a case where the road map was issued and the Israelis said we're for it, the Palestinians said we're for it and the deal was done, you wouldn't have had decades-worth of conflict and lack of agreement. So this the difficulties of dealing in the Middle East, as the President put it. It's a road that he will travel, and it's a bumpy road.

Q When you say, crack down, do you expect Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority to go out and arrest and end Hamas as a viable organization in the Palestinian community? Because he is essentially negotiating with them, trying to get them to recognize his authority.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly peace-loving Palestinians have an interest not only so that the negotiations with Israel can be fruitful, but also for the good of the lives of the Palestinian people, to make sure that there are not terrorists who live among themselves in the Palestinian areas who would carry out these homicide attacks in Israel. So, of course, it is the obligation, under Oslo and under the road map, for the Palestinians to crack down on those who engage in acts of terror.

Q So he's not measuring up to that in his approach so far?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd just leave it as I said it.

Q And then on Iran. If al Qaeda is in Iran, and the administration has communicated its concern for a while and they're still there, is it fair to conclude that Iran is harboring terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I mentioned, we have longstanding concerns. And we are working now through the channels that are available to this government to convey those concerns. And I leave it there. That's where the matter stands for now.

Q Doesn't the Bush doctrine call for tougher action than that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Bush doctrine still speaks for itself on this matter.

Q In Baghdad, continued lawlessness there. There's still a lot of resistance against what some Iraqis are calling the American occupation. You're having to bring in a lot more troops now. The swiftness of the war aside, is there a chance that you win the battle, but you lose the peace here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, there is a very important objective to win the peace, because it represents the future for the people of Iraq. And it is no easy task. It is a task that will take some time. But it is a vital part of the mission. It was planned as part of the follow-on to the military conflict, and it is not easy. But, no, I don't think there's any chance of losing the peace, but it is going to be a battle to continue to win the peace.

And particularly, keep in mind when you look at Iraq, too -- and I think it's important to make this distinction -- there are many areas of Iraq that are quiet, that are calm, where electricity has been restored, where water is up and running, where they even have more -- for example, in Basra -- more clean water today than they ever had even prior to the war.

There are areas in Baghdad -- not all of Baghdad, but areas in Baghdad which still lag far behind. And that's a big effort of the new security effort that is being made in Baghdad today. So I think it's -- if history is any indication, you will hear the worst stories, they will be told, but they're not indicative of what's happening in the rest of the country or even other sections in the same city of Baghdad.

Q Can you candidly say that the administration has been somewhat surprised at how difficult it is to establish the peace?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the biggest surprise we have realized since the hostilities ended and we were able to actually get in on the ground and see the infrastructure of Baghdad and Iraq, generally, is just how poor the infrastructure actually is. There are areas of Baghdad that have blackouts and did not have electricity even prior to the war, in a modern city like Baghdad -- there were areas like that. And much of it was because, while they had the refinery capability, the generating capability, they did not have the infrastructure of the electric grid. It was an old, rickety infrastructure.

 

To get spare parts, you're talking about getting spare parts for things that are, in many cases, decades old. And if anything, it was probably an over-estimation of the strength and stability of the Iraqi infrastructure.

 

Q I have a question on taxes, Ari. The first time around, the first tax cuts the President sought, he and the White House was saying that one of the reasons it was needed was to cut the surplus, keep revenues out of the hands of government to spend it. And now you're saying that over time the tax cut would lead to an increase in revenue. So which is the impact of the tax cut?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Randy, you forgot to mention the other two reasons that the President always cited for the tax cut in 2001.

 

Q Well, I see discrepancy in those two, Ari.

 

MR. FLEISCHER: The President always said that there were three reasons for the tax cut in 2001, and this is his approach to economic thinking. And one was just as you indicate, at a time of surplus, which 2001 represented, to make certain that the money didn't get spent on bigger federal programs, that we all know that people here in Washington will do.

 

The second reason was as an insurance policy, as the President said, against economic slowdown. And thirdly, because, as the President enjoys saying, you've heard it before, it's the people's money, not the government's money, and they deserve to keep it. So in the current environment, the reason the President gave as an insurance policy against a downturn has turned out to be absolutely valid. The timing of the tax cut in 2001 helped bring the economy out of the recession of early 2001, and the economy has been growing slowly since then. In the President's judgment, it still needs an additional boost.

 

Q And does he still believe it will lead to an increase in revenues?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Unquestionably. What it will lead to is increased growth. And as a result of growth, it brings in revenues to the federal government, and the deficit, which was created by the war and the attack and the recession, the deficit is indeed on a downward trend now. And that's what important. The deficit was on an upward trend; that is now coming back down. And that's what the President is focused on.

 

Q And secondly, does he support the sunsetting provisions in the -- on the dividend tax cut as a way for the Senate to meet its self-imposed limit on the size of the tax cut?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll still -- we'll work with the Congress to see what the final shape of the tax cut will be.

 

Q Ari, I'm going to ask about you. What was -- since you're leaving, what was your absolute lowest moment? (Laughter.)

 

MR. FLEISCHER: How do you know we have yet reached it? (Laughter.)

 

Q Seriously, what would you say. With all the tussles we've had.

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- I don't really look at it as the lowest one, but I look at it as the moment of the greatest national challenge, and how could it be anything other than September 11th -- to travel on September 11th, the day just as innocent as any other day, and to arrive at that school in Florida only to find out our country was under attack. I think that was a day that will be always remembered.

 

The other difficulties, the whole series of anthrax attacks. You all remember what it was like in this room, and people who suffered from the attack and lost lives will always remember it. That was a real challenge to our country. And it was my privilege to stand at this podium and do my best to explain what was happening in each of these cases.

 

Q Why are you going back to Westchester, eventually? Are you going to run for office?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I will not run for office. If I were running for office, Elizabeth, I would not have an "R" after my name and move back to New York. "R." You know, I just think you reach a point in your career where you have to examine what brought you to Washington in the first place. And I've been doing this business very happily for 21 straight years, having done virtually nothing else other than government and politics. The last four wonderful years, almost four, with Governor Bush, now President Bush. And you just reach a point where you have to look into your heart that it's time to go.

 

And what I enjoy so much about what I can say today is I will leave being able to say that I love my job, I believe deeply in President Bush, the man and his policies, but it's my time to go. Plus, I'm looking forward to spending more time with my wife, Becki. That means a lot to me. And you look at all these factors and circumstances, and it's with a lot of happiness, but a lot that I know I'm going to miss, that leads me to say it's time to say good-bye.

 

Q Ari, that's not my question.

 

MR. FLEISCHER: We still have the same bad rules that I'm sure somebody will overturn.

 

Q I just wanted to wish you the best wherever you go and whatever you do.

 

Q Ari, one thing, following up on Elizabeth's question, then I have another question, when is it too much spin?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you decide that. I mean, look, the job of anybody who is the White House press secretary is to faithfully articulate what the President is thinking and why he's thinking it. And that's what I do for a living. The job of the press corps is to try to find out everything you possibly can about everything under the sun. And I try to help you as much as I can, wherever I can. And my job is to represent the President. And that's what I always remember when I come to this podium.

 

Q Now my second question. President Arroyo made a very interesting statement. She said, terrorism is like SARS, it's almost like SARS. Is it spreading because we still have yet to find the core, Osama bin Laden?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that, as the President has said, the war is about more than one person. So even if Osama bin Laden had been captured or brought to justice, or it was known what his fate was, there would still be remnants of his organization still vying for power, that were still willing to kill Westerners to carry out their missions. That's the nature of terrorism. It's the nature of hatred.

 

Hatred doesn't exist only because of one person; hatred exists. In this case, it's the most virulent hatred because it's carried out in the form of murder -- murder against Americans; murder against Westerners; murder in countries such as Morocco that are a tolerant, open society. And that's why you see two strong leaders like President Bush and President Arroyo who can stand side by side to say they're united in the fight against it.

 

Q But a group is only as strong as it leader, correct? Al Qaeda?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when it comes to being able to carry out bombings, they are able to do it no matter what type of leadership they have. And this is why the President said that al Qaeda has been diminished, but has not been destroyed. Those were the President's words from the Abraham Lincoln.

 

Q Ari, one on the Middle East, and then I'll try to come back to Elizabeth's question about you. On the Middle East, the President was very emphatic in the news conference today about how he views this as a bump in the road, or it will be a bumpy road, but that he will not be deterred and he will keep at this. I think people who hear that, and then see what's going on in the region, look to see what specifically the President will do. And we don't hear, at least from the podium, of a phone call to Abu Mazen, saying, look, I know you're in a tough spot, but you need to do this -- a phone call to Prime Minister Sharon, I know you couldn't come and I know you need to defend your people, but don't go too far, try to keep an environment for peace. Why is -why do we not see personal diplomacy if this is so important to him?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, number one, the reason that Abu Mazen is there is because of the President's personal diplomacy. There was no Palestinian Prime Minister who had different thoughts about the direction of peace. There was no meeting between an Israeli leader and a Palestinian leader until the one that took place last week, thanks in large part to President Bush's diplomacy.

 

And, of course, Prime Minister Sharon was scheduled to be here just tomorrow for more personal diplomacy. And I remind you, Secretary Powell just left the region. But, you know, when you look at the history of the Middle East, what it often takes are strong visionary leaders who are willing to fight those within who seek to oppose peace. And it is a sometimes lonely route. It can be a dangerous route. It's a route that often is beset with violence before the peacemakers have their chance to act.

 

Former President Sadat was a hero who emerged out of war with Israel to live for peace while he lived. He made peace with Israel. And he will always be remembered as a hero who thought differently in the Arab world to bring peace to the region. You see that now in other leaders in the Arab world. And others have made peace with Israel.

 

So this is a difficult, difficult road, as the President said. If it was a road that could be influenced by one phone call, don't you think the President would have done that a long time ago? Don't you think every American President would have? It's not just a phone call. It's a series of actions that have to take place on the ground, beginning with unequivocal steps by the Palestinians to combat terror, and a willingness of the Israelis to work with the Palestinians to achieve the political ends of the road map.

 

Q I think the question Elizabeth was trying to ask is, is there --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: About Westchester?

 

Q Is there one you wish you could take back? You're in this job, and in live exchanges like this all the time, here and on the road. I think her point is, is th ere one, when you got back up to the office you thought, oh, boy, I wish I could reel that one back in?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, probably every day. No, there will come an appropriate time where I'm going to think about things like that and have more of a chance to look back. For today, all I can tell you is when I look back and I think about the almost four years, I look back and think what a period of time in our nation's history that this has been, and how fortunate I am that President Bush asked me to stand at this podium and serve.

 

You know, it was the closest election in modern history. It was a Supreme Court recount. In 2001, of course, one of the first actions that took place was after the President's tax cut went through and education plans, there was an historic switch in the United States Senate. September 11th, one war, the anthrax attacks, another war, all of that has taken place in less than four years. It's a momentous period of time that I've had the privilege of standing here and serving this President. I think much of the reason it is such a big era with big things happening is because President Bush has faced them and made this a big era where he's willing to confront these challenges.

And that's what I think about today. And I also think, frankly, about the fact that all those items I just listed took place while I was in the White House -- one war, two wars, the anthrax attacks. But most importantly, what also took place here, is I met my wife who worked in this White House. And I'm very much looking forward to relaxing and spending more time with her.

Somebody asked me what the definition of relaxing is after you go -- after you work in the White House, particularly after you work as press secretary. And it occurred to me that something more restful, more relaxing would be now to wrestle alligators for a living. There's a lot more relaxation in that then some of the things that you get to do here. So I'm looking forward to a little time off, a little relaxing.

Q Ari, following John's Q, one personal question and one foreign policy question. Let me start with the foreign policy question. When do you expect a vote in the United Nations about the U.S. proposal to lift sanctions on Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the likelihood is a vote will take place this week. Resolution final language is being talked through, and I anticipate there will be action on that matter this week.

Q The personal question. When did you start thinking of leaving, when did you make the final decision, and when did you inform the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: I started thinking about it, frankly, a few months ago. I really kept it to myself, and then after a little while, started talking to my wife about it. I've always made decisions, career decisions, based on what was in my heart and what was in my gut. And I approached this the same way. You just have to have a sense of when the time is right to make your decision about to serve or to go. And I made mine. I informed the President about it on Friday in the Oval Office, and I had a wonderful conversation with him, and then made the announcement public today.

Q Did he kiss you on the head, Ari? (Laughter.)

Q Answer the question.

MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking me to disclose private Oval office discussions. I'll just say he's a very caring person. (Laughter.)

Q That's a yes.

Q You're leading us to believe, you know -- let me ask you, while we're on that, what's the most ridiculous call you've gotten in the middle of the night?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know, because I was asleep for it. I don't know, I'll have to think about that. Phones don't stop ringing. It's seven days a week. Sometimes you get lucky and nothing happens one day. But that's not often.

Q A couple important questions for you. One on Iran. Have the Iranians responded in some way to these concerns that we have expressed and communicated to them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we are going to play close attention to what we hear and what we see. And I leave it at that for now.

Q But the hope, obviously, is that they would turn over some of these people.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if anybody can play a role in fighting terrorism, it is important for them, no matter where they are, to play that role.

Q Speaking of playing roles, the President alluded to some role he is willing to play in mediating between the Philippine government and MILF today. I didn't quite understand what it is that he is willing to do.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what the President said on that today is, by making the Philippines a non-NATO ally, that that helps them in their struggle against the MILF, as well as the Abu Sayyef group and the resurgent communists in the Philippines. I think that's the tenor of what the President was saying.

Q He's not offering, in some way, to do something, to mediate?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I recall of that nature, Jim, from the meetings that I was in. Let me see if there's anything more to it, but I sure don't recall that.

Q Ari, there are reports that the Senate language on the tax bill on dividends was actually offered by the White House, basically. Is that correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen those reports, so I wouldn't want to comment on them. We're still working --

Q But was it offered by -- I mean, is that the White House proposal, to temporarily eliminate dividends?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the White House position was to eliminate dividends. That is our preference, and working within whatever the aggregate amount of the tax cut will be to help accomplish that goal for whatever period of time that is accomplishable. But I am -- I'm just not aware of that report, so I don't have anything to give you more specific on it.

Q Maybe this is a follow-up to April's question about when is there too much spin, but what did you mean that the deficit is on a downward trend? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: If you look over time over the next several years -- good one, Keith, very, very well done. The out-years, the projection for the deficit in the out-years, that is indeed coming down, not going up.

Q But in the short run it's going up still.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, over the next several years. It's expected to peak and is now coming down in the out years.

Q Peak when?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's this very year.

Q Does the President believe the new Palestinian Prime Minister has sufficient authority to rein in the kind of terrorists who struck over the --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that will be found out. That will be tested. In the President's judgment, there is no question that the new Palestinian Prime Minister thinks differently about peace and about reform, that he is a reformer, he is a man who wants to move in the direction of peace and work with Israel well. Whether or not he has the ability to fight the terrorists or crack down on the terrorists is an essential part that remains to be seen. But the President believes in him.

Q Does the fact that these attacks occurred over the weekend say anything about his ability or lack of ability?

MR. FLEISCHER: I hesitate to make that connection. You know what you have in this region are people who want to defy Abu Mazen. There are terrorists who reject the reformist way of some of these new Palestinian leaders. And they present just as much a threat to Abu Mazen as they do to the peace process.

Q There's no question about the words that he's spoken, they've certainly been in line with what our government has requested. But have we seen actions behind those words to lead us to believe --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's what we need to see, actions.

Q You haven't seen any yet.

MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, there have been a series of homicide bombings.

Q The President met with the President of South Korea last week. He is meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi this week. Is the President pushing for a new round of talks with North Korea in the near future?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're still talking about the exact next steps to take. We have never said that there won't be additional talks. In fact, I think that that is one of the things we are taking a look at, is the possibility of additional talks, what the appropriate time would be, and again, they would be multilateral forum if they were to take place.

Q Is he, is part of the discussion on Friday going to focus on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would anticipate, yes. That, of course, is going to be an issue that comes up Friday.

Q Ari, new subject. Berney Kerik, who is a newly appointed White House senior policy advisor for Iraq, allegedly was involved in a cover-up involving an aide who was involved in an assault case. Is this -- do you have anything on this, and is this the type of thing that could hurt the appointment?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look. I don't have anything on the background of this, so let me take a look and see if there is anything to this or not.

Q On a lighter note, could you give us an idea of some of the things you're going to be doing? And what were you thinking when you made the announcement --

MR. FLEISCHER: This must be a slow news day.

Q What were you thinking when you made the announcement on a day that the Yankees are at Fenway Park and we're not going to have much room for your story locally?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President did kid me this morning. He said, the real reason you're leaving is because the Rangers swept the Yankees. No, it's -- you know, I'm still hoping that I'll be able to get to Yankee Stadium, take some grounders at short. Jeter is back, but we'll see what I can do next.

Q You said a few minutes ago wrestling alligators would be easier than this. It's probably worth noting for the record that former Attorney General Reno, who grew up in Florida wrestling alligators, has not ruled out a return to politics, so that begs the question -- (laughter.) Seriously, the President, on the deck of the Lincoln, said that we'd turn the tide in the war on terrorism and pronounced also that eventually we would win it. Do the bombings that we've seen in recent days, despite all the government's warnings, all the government's best efforts, call into question the likelihood that we'll ever get to a point where we've eliminated terrorism to the point where we don't have bombings, whether they're hard targets or soft targets?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we've talked about this before, what's the definition of winning the war on terrorism. And this is why the President has warned the American people it's a different kind of war, and it's going to be a long-fought war. And as the President has said, this is a war where sometimes you're going to see great periods of time in which things are quiet, and then all of a sudden you're going to see action. And in a war, unfortunately, sometimes you see action from the other side. Every step is taken to stop the other side from attacking, but it is, unfortunately, the very definition and nature of war. We have an enemy that is still intent on hitting us, which is why the President feels so strongly that every action must be taken to continue the war to win it.

 

Q The healthy forest initiative, assuming that's still on the schedule tomorrow, can you remind us where we are on that, what the President's rationale is, and what particular steps you would like to advance tomorrow on that?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as he visited some of the areas in the Western states that were hit hardest by the devastating forest fires, came out with a new plan that would help the forests and the forest managers to thin some of the land underneath the forest, to clear out some of the old brush that has served as gasoline for the spread of fires. And this has been an initiative that has been hailed by many, particularly in the Western areas, as a way to preserve and protect the forest that we have by avoiding the worst dangers of forest fire.

 

All the President had to do was meet with some of the victims in Arizona of the rapidly spreading fires that took place there to know that we need to do, and can do, a better job managing the forests. So that is the initiative the President has launched. And hopefully, it will pass this week.

 

Q Is he planning to, like, look ahead to the new forest fire season? I'm just trying to figure out what the purpose is of doing something on it this week.

 

MR. FLEISCHER: There is -- of course, as summer approaches, the dangers of forest fires increase, so it is a timely moment to do it. But this is an initiative the President laid out last year. So it's time to move.

 

Q Ari, a question and some personal comments. I don't know how --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: No personal comments, Goyle.

 

Q I don't know really how I thank you for your help and support, making me a better journalist. I learn every day from you. And you have been one of the best Secretaries in my 20 years in the White House I have seen. Smiling always, and always available and access to the press. And we will miss you, and especially I will miss you deeply. And I hope maybe we'll meet some day somewhere, and it will be better than here.

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

 

Q The question is, is that -- and I hope President Bush knows that.

 

MR. FLEISCHER: All right, thank you. (Laughter.)

 

Q The question is that now we see that al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden and terrorists have changed their tactics for killing and the freedom and peace-loving people around the globe. And now we have seen Saudi Arabia and Morocco and all that. Do you think the U.S. is going to change policy on terrorism, how to go after the terrorists, and go to the root cause of terrorism, where they come from, who's financing them, who's training them and harboring them?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: As the President has made repeatedly clear, this is a battle against people who are just cold-blooded murderers who have no political agenda other than the taking of lives. It's not a group of people you can negotiate with, as the President said. And he will continue to pursue the war against terror relentlessly.

 

Q Also, best of luck to you. We will miss you. Two questions on you, and one on Iraq --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm still here for a couple more months.

 

Q Do you expect, or do you recommend that Scott McClellan become your successor?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I just don't speculate about personnel.

 

Q Do you plan to write a book or consult the President?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what I plan to do next is, one, relax a little bit. And, two, what I will most likely do is I will be in Washington for the next couple years, maybe do a little speaking, maybe do a little writing, support in any way I possibly can the President so he can run for reelection and win. And then, eventually, head into the private sector; eventually, move back to Westchester to where I grew up. That's probably what I'm thinking of today.

 

Q And on Iraq, does the United States think Iraq should pull out or stay out of OPEC, and that way undercut OPEC's strength?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the Iraqi authorities form, they will have decisions to make about all their endeavors, whether or not they want to have a nationalized oil company, or whether they want to have a private company; what role it would play in the rest of the world. These are decisions that free nations make. We'll see what decisions the Iraqi people want to make.

Q Ari, regarding the road map, the President said -- and he was very firm, saying, now is the time for those who want peace to stand up and join in the fight on terror. He made a point of singling out Europe. Can you elaborate more what the President believes European leaders should be doing to help in the peace process?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, one, recognizes that Europe has played an important role in the formation of the road map which is what is on the table now, and he appreciates that. Two, the President also thinks it's very helpful for signals to be sent everywhere, including from Europe, that in order to make progress on the road map, steps have to be taken to confront and crack down and stop the terrorists. That's a message he would like to hear the Europeans deliver unequivocally.

Q Ari, on the Philippines and reestablishing the Philippines as a defense ally, does the President see a day when it would be a return of U.S. bases, permanent bases there in the Philippines?

MR. FLEISCHER: That was not a topic, at least in the meeting that I was in, that came up. And obviously, that was a decision that was made by our two countries about one decade ago, to close down our base in Subic and Clark. And I think we are on a path to a different relationship with the Philippine people, marked by economic ties and trade ties and close ties now in the war against terror.

Q And if I could ask a separate question, Ari. I know you don't speculate on personnel matters, but what kind of an individual will the President be looking for to -- (laughter) -- what's the most important attribute --

MR. FLEISCHER: Patience. No, those will be judgments that the President makes. And whatever advice I give the President I'll do so privately. It's an important position. It's an important matter for the President to consider, and he'll consider it. But I'm going to have to go by what I always do, which is just not speculate about personnel.

Q As to a question, I will defer to the lady on my left, but I do want to make a comment.

MR. FLEISCHER: Now, wait a minute, you're not allowed two people from the same bureau in here today. (Laughter.)

Q I'm only sitting here quietly because I wanted to make a personal comment, not ask a question. But I go back and have dealt with press secretaries since Jim Haggerty back under Eisenhower, and I'd just like to say that you're very capable, good sense of humor, and foremost above all, you're a nice guy and I shall personally miss you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you very much.

Q Ari, President Bush and South Korea Roh agree to achieve a peaceful solution of North Korean nuclear crisis. What would be the real role of -- the United States expect from South Korea?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the impact of resolving this crisis would be the removal of a threat that endangers millions of lives around the peninsula and in the neighborhood, including Japan and China and Russia, everywhere where North Korea, with its possession of nuclear weapons and its desire to acquire more nuclear weapons and its ability to have missiles presents a threat to the neighborhood.

Also, one of the greatest results that could come will be an improvement in the lives of tens of millions of people who live north of the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula. There are tens of millions of North Koreans who are impoverished, who are famished, who live in -- there are large numbers who live in prison camps that were created by a ruthless dictatorial North Korean government.

And so, as a result of a North Korean government that honors its obligations to the world, perhaps it can end its isolation in the world and do what free governments should always do, which is serve the needs of their people. And the North Korean government has not done that.

Q Thank you. First of all I want to wish you lots of luck. Be happy, enjoy Becki, and get whatever you desire. (Laughter.) Now, my question. Could it be the resumption of the Cold War? Russian President Putin says Russian vodka can cure SARS. Does the President agree, and what about U.S. vodka or Kentucky bourbon?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, I have not heard President Putin's statement about vodka. There is much that vodka can cure. I don't know about that.

Q One of your predecessors, Gerald terHorst resigned as President Ford's press secretary, he said as a matter of conscience, because he couldn't defend President Ford's pardon to President Nixon. I was wondering, is there anything President Bush has done as President that made you think, even for a moment, that you would resign as a matter of conscience.

MR. FLEISCHER: Never, no.

Q Not for a moment.

MR. FLEISCHER: Not for a moment. Why should there be? This is man -- like I said, this is a man in whom I believe deeply. One of the things that is so fascinating about this job is it is a job that is very hard to leave. There is a tremendous attraction to the White House. There is a tremendous sense of worth in serving a President of the United States, any President. It is a hard place to leave because it is such an attractive place to be, and especially when you work for a man, like President Bush, in whom I believe so deeply.

But ultimately, it still comes down to having a sense of yourself and knowing when it is time to go. And as I said this morning, I never intended to be a government-for-life type. I've done this for -- entirely now for 21 years, and I'm looking forward to pursuing different adventures, different chapters, and spending more time the way most Americans do, which is quietly with your family.

Q I'll save my platitudes for private, if you don't mind. A question on Saudi Arabia and this idea of the national guard supplying some of the arms to this group of terrorists suspected in the bombings. Is that an indication that Saudi Arabia has a much deeper problem with home-grown militancy than it even now is willing to admit?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, I'm looking into that report. I can't confirm that report. But, clearly, Saudi Arabia must look within, and they are looking within, as to what steps they can take as our friend to continue in the fight against terror. And I think you're seeing that in the statements they're making. And we're pleased with the cooperation on the ground. As you know, another team of FBI agents has been welcomed into Saudi Arabia. They are working very hard on this with us. And we are pleased by that.

Q Thank you, Ari.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, all.

END 1:58 P.M. EDT